As part of my eternal quest to find the next Higurashi No Naku Koro Ni, I recently watched Mirai Nikki, or Future Diary, a battle royale-type story where twelve local residents of Bumfuck, Japan, each referred to by their ordinal number, are pitted against one another in a competition where the solitary winner will succeed the dying God of Time and Space, Deus.
Each of these players is outfitted with a specialized “future diary,” which actively foretells the immediate future. Destroying the diary (or killing the owner, if you want to be thorough) takes them out of the game, inherently placing the two contestants with paper diaries at a disadvantage and converting anyone with a Nokia phone diary into the undisputed champion.
Beyond that, the nature of these diaries and the information they can acquire we shall lovingly push into the Willing Suspension of Disbelief column for later reference; there’s also the Absolute Plothole category and my own personal Fell Asleep and Missed the Briefing category, which will aid us in detangling the clusterfuck that is Mirai Nikki.
What’s important for now, however, is that contrary to what you might assume given the title, the God of Time and Space has an achilles heel, in that he cannot actually transcend the boundaries of time, and very rarely chooses to transcend the boundaries of space.
This means that in the present moment not even he or she can revive the dead or undo the damage of the Future Diary Game after it has been played out, leaving them with the sole mundane option of going back in time to wipe the slate and relive the game in an identical timeline — but again, this god can’t transcend time, meaning that multiple time-spacies would exist at once. And that’s where our story begins!
Presenting Our Heroes
Yukiteru Amano is a few steps below your average middle schooler, high schooler, or both; I’m not sure which one he is because I’m unwilling to believe he’s a middle schooler and I’ve seen both whilescoping out other reviews.
Anyway Yuki (also Yukki, Yukii, pookie, sweetie, baby, my man, Amano-kun, or my personal favorite from angry denizens of the internet, Noodledick) is a living sponge and out of some unexplained social anxiety, lives in a semi-content equilibrium of observing and documenting the happenings around him on his cellphone. “Kousaka and the gang are up to no good again,” he might jot down while being punched in the stomach.
Though perhaps it’s a flaw native to the English dub, you’ll soon find that the authors’ concept of middle school bullying is both foreign and staunchly single-minded; girls will call each other whores at the slightest and most irrelevant provocation (In an ironic twist Yuno Gasai is particularly fond of slinging this word) and the main characters are mocked in many a school scene for using their cell phones too much, which is obviously a loser thing to do for losers only!
Pookie’s parents are divorced, his father entirely absent for most of his life and his mother only returning home about once a month when she’s not too busy with her demanding job as a game developer(!). He likes throwing darts sometimes and after school huddles on his bed in a blanket to have really deep conversations with his imaginary friends, current time-space god Deus Ex Machina and his quirky servant, Murmur. But what if they wasn’t imaginary?!
For reasons I will graciously file under Missed the Briefing, Yukiteru is last (though his codename is First) to be unwillingly inaugurated into the Diary Game and must now fight for his life against eleven colleagues who may or may not all be serial killers to some capacity. Yup, Yukiteru is so whitebread he can’t even come up with his own OCs, instead meekly accepting the otherworldy ones that spawned in his brain and weren’t actually of his own creation.
You might think this whitebread is toast, but he’s got an ace in the hole, classmate Yuno Gasai, who happens to be the second diary holder. She’s an all-around killing machine who not only has zero qualms with manslaughter, but also (supposedly) dedicates the whole of her being to becoming Yuki’s wifeypon. She’s the owner of the Yukiteru Diary, which keeps tabs on all things Yuki Amano just short of up-to-the-minute body metrics.
Thanks to Yuno’s knowhow, First avoids a narrow scrape with Third, local actual serial killer equipped with the Murder Diary, and defeats him with a swift and well-timed dart to the phone. Because when the writer says jump, the players say how high, when someone suggests this makes Yuki (but not Yuno, duh!) a high-ranking threat, Team Noodledick is now the game’s priority target.
The series expectedly becomes a monster-of-the-week spiel for as long as the other diary owners decide to keep revealing themselves, which is fine because the goofy supporting cast is the show’s single strength. The issue is when many of the short-term contenders are dead or nullified, Mirai Nikki can no longer play footsie with the more complex unresolved plot threads, which the writer is about to handle catastrophically.
These had been rearing their unwanted, ugly heads about once an episode in the first half of the series, always looking out of place, but now for about the final ten episodes they command center stage, demanding to be taken seriously while playing by the existing set of rules established for storytelling not meant to be taken seriously.
The Rules of the Game
Mirai Nikki rules are as follows: first, age is not a relevant barrier. The middle school heroes drive cars, have sex, and suddenly acquire all manner of deadly weapons — katanas, crossbows, axes, knives, AK47s — without so much as a second glance from the surrounding universe; also, middle school boobs enlarge themselves to epic pornstar proportions when necessary for a hilarious (not hilarious) fanservice moment or time-space-god forbid fanservice episode. Let’s not encroach on the well-worn territory of Chibi Vampire, people.
This seems like it would be an easy fix: just bump everyone up four years or so and it won’t seem like we’re ushering the classmates of Mabel Pines into action-packed adult scenes of mass murder and enormous tits. But that would alienate the central cast from the show’s primary intended audience, fourteen-year-old adolescent boys. Shounen is a broad word, but Mirai Nikki is very specifically tailored to this early pubescent-brained male demographic, which becomes increasingly evident with rules two and three.
Rule two is that girls can be whores, but all guys are chaste. Many a darkly lit fugitive scene involves a female suddenly dropping her pantaloons to blushingly pee in the corner, five of the female leads have their nipples in full view at least once, two are seen taking a shower and two are shown half-naked in the aftermath of being gang-raped, Ninth gets tied up in a cell in her panties, and Yuno has a bad habit of traipsing around in her underwear or an intentionally misfitting bikini when she’s feeling feisty. But fear not, straight lady viewers! For your viewing pleasure, you get a couple of pelvic thrusts and a five-year-old’s penis.
Rule three is Tell, Don’t Show!! ~ Yukiteru Amano is a 10/10. ~ It really is difficult to determine in the world of comic books and animation, where the rainbow of human faces and body types is often reduced to a few broad categories, whether someone is attractive to a nuanced degree.
Yukiteru Amano even has a pretty top tier anime hairstyle in my book, but he’s the established school loser and his personality gives a lackluster first impression that only gets worse the longer you know him. His unexplained ability to charm his peers, then, becomes nigh inexcusable… unless he’s a proxy for the intended audience. Who says lousy dating sims are just for girls? With Mirai Nikki, you’ve got hot babes willing to die for you and even the token gay route if your hormones aren’t quite sold on Yuno Gasai.
Yuno, it should be explained, is in love with Yuki for just about the dumbest reason you can imagine; she was adopted by an incredibly abusive couple and was feeling down on her luck about two years before the events of the game, when the students of her (6th grade?) class were told to fill out a survey about their plans for the future. Yuno, also considerably lackluster before growing into her signature personality trait, hadn’t the slightest idea of what to put down, and was one of the last students to finish along with Yukiteru, who tentatively figured that his dream was to go stargazing with his family, then struggling through a divorce.
It’s a cute and sentimental answer, if not a correct response to the survey question, and Yuno thinks so as well! She says the two of them might be a family if they got married, to which he replies they’d have to wait until they were older, the way you might do when you’re trying to get a creepy person to stop talking to you. From then on she views Yukiteru as her beacon of hope and purpose in life, planning to watch over him from afar until the day finally comes when they’re old enough (meaning fourteen years old… I guess).
You know when you do something like that, or maybe reject someone a little to gently, and it gets misinterpreted as a promise to get married and make millions of babies together? Yeah, well, that’s the foundation of this iron-forged relationship, which would be comical but you’re supposed to be rooting for them. One of the climaxes (er… pun not intended) of the series is the two of them having sex for the first time before the end of the world.
Quick one-sentence recap: two unfortunates bond over their inability to fill out a one-question survey. Got it? Good. Moving on.
The fourth rule is that important characters are very stubborn when it comes to getting killed. “You may have just stabbed me in the chest, head, or jugular, but I have something important to say, time-space-god-damn it!” If you want to stop the inexplicable gay passion of Aru Akise, you’re going to have to cut his head off, because he saves his pert ass from certain destruction twice in a row using the power of his love for Yuki Amano.
Rule number five is that the police are only selectively useful. The main characters, as well as Ninth, the resident terrorist, are under police protection for most the series despite having taken countless lives of men, women, and children in their pursuit for godhood, in part because both the police chief and his successor character think Ninth is a foxy mama, which is sort of true. The closest the kids ever come to getting arrested though is under false charges, and when the police discover the three bodies Yuno tossed unceremoniously in a hole in her backyard, they decide that that’s just fine. Kids make mistakes, right?
Sixth and most importantly is goldfish memory. Yuno changes personality at the drop of a hat and once any ordeal is over Yuki won’t remember a thing about it. Character growth in the protagonists, when existent, is sporadic and unearned, much like the bouts of puberty these middle schoolers are also probably going through.
After the writer realized in a frenzy that Yukiteru had burst into tears one too many an episode to be the cool viewer avatar, he goes through a brief “badass arc” wherein he tries to impress adults by reading off a cool-guy script penned by Yuno before each confrontation (middle school students can write really cool stuff trust me guise!!). He then dons both a jacket and a devil-may-care persona and goes after the two of the last contestants like there had been a self-esteem workshop and training montage offscreen or something.
There are some action scenes, over the top bloodshed, and a car chase, and while ultimately Yuki doesn’t kill either of his targets, he does manage to trick and slaughter a slew of homeless orphans. Not an ounce of irony here. Just badass.
Yuno Gasai, for all her reputation as the champion title-holder of yanderes everywhere, does not actually have the time or resources to be a full-on yandere, preferring mostly to waffle around on the radar of abusive, psycho bitch with intermittent moments of clarity.
Sometimes Yuki’s opinion of her is important, and sometimes his dissent just makes him a “misguided bastard.” Sometimes she’s willing to kill herself so he won’t have to, but sometimes his inaction means he should die first. Sometimes Yuno understands she’s too demanding of him, but sometimes he needs to be drugged and kidnapped for his own safety. He might not want to have sex because she gave his mother a concussion, but it might also be because other girls are prettier than her! :(
To be clear, this is not the difference between yandere-on and yandere-off mode. Paranoid or manipulative, martyr or murderer, blushing bride or chessmaster, Yuno is a set of sixteen revolving doors which all turn based on infinitely many variables, including her menstrual cycle, the alignment of the planets, the winning lottery numbers, and a palm reading taken in 2005. Who cares!
The So-Called Yandere
While Yuki is a brand of dumb of astronomical proportions, Yuno discards or reclaims memories and traits at random when most convenient to the storyline. Akise, resident explanation fellow, chalks this up to her mighty amounts of “cognitive dissonance,” but anyone who’s even smelled a psychology textbook can call out that clueless writer bullshit from a mile away.
The relationship between the two of them also operates on goldfish time. Yuki struggles with whether and how to trust and appease Yuno, his “loose canon,” and decides he can ignore her murderous, overly controlling tendencies and commit to a loving relationship. Even if she doesn’t realize how important his new friends are to him, Yuno does have boobs, and she does save his life from time to time.
Then Yuno remembers she has to fill her monthly yandere quota and decides to drug and kidnap him, keeping Yukiteru barely alive in an abandoned trap-covered hotel and sealing his friends in a gas chamber after they come to his rescue. When Yuki comes to his senses, he slaps her hard in the face for being a conniving creep and cries “screw you!” which is the meanest curse in the middle school swearbook.
In the following episode, she returns again, unfazed, and after a very brief internal debate which conveniently glosses over the facts of the previous arc, he again commits to her, this time with a renewed passion, abandoning his friends, and switches from team friendship to team hormones in a heartbeat, eventually killing three of them in a row at Yuno’s behest.
Plot holes abound, and not because of the subject matter. Zero Escape explains itself better, and deals with much more complex timey-wimey nonsense of the kind which prompts long, intense discussion.
On some level, this is not a story about a delusional yandere with eyes only for Yuki who views the supporting cast as an obstacle, but about a cutthroat mangaka with eyes only for the delusional yandere, who views the supporting cast — with the occasional exception of Ninth — as an obstacle.
Yuno is what we of the pretend-novelist world like to call the author’s darling, and provided you as the reader are not also enamoured of the author’s darling, her purpose is to sour all the good ideas surrounding her and get enormous amounts of slack from the powers that be. The common saw is that once you identify your darlings, you’re supposed to kill them, since darlings make for really bad copy. I might have been simpatico with Yuno had the genders been reversed; darlings often have an innate sexuality, an important part of the sentimental spell they cast to convince you not to shoot them.
In the horror/thriller dimension, darlings most often arrive in yandere or semi-yandere flavor of the likes of Sho Reilen or the Orca from that game I hate (my blog is supposed to be about indie games you see). They’ve got absurd, unexplained combat skill of a caliber unrivaled by their castmates, and you can tell they’re supposed to be cute or cool or awe-inspiring and that you’re supposed to like them, which makes things if you don’t all the more infuriating.
In Yuno’s case, this means always ultimately gaining the upper hand and coming out unscathed even when her odds of survival are nonexistent. SCENE 3: HOSPITAL HALLWAY, INT. DAY: YUNO GASAI charges through the corridor weilding a pocket knife towards a FULLY ARMED SWAT TEAM. FULLY ARMED SWAT TEAM is taken by surprise as each has their throat slit, bleeding out like a shitty, useless balloon, until the entire squadron is defeated, thanks to the power of love!
And the Point Is…?
One of the biggest underlying flaws of the series though, one especially easy to miss given how quickly Mirai Nikki escalates into batshit shounen fare, is its lack of inherent theme or value. Death game stories certainly aren’t obligated to tie in some basic aphorism (“Killing is wrong! lelz :O”) since they deal with philosophical controversy by nature, but because of this fact, they naturally encourage some form of deep-thinking whereas Mirai Nikki strangely doesn’t.
Yuki and Yuno ultimately end up getting their happy ending, but why? This is not a triumph of love, morality, or justice as these concepts are known to must human beings. It seems we are supposed to cheer for them because the author likes them and because they are the main characters, arbitrarily. Neither thinks in grandiose or abstract terms, and because their motivations boil down to protecting whomever they like the best, which varies by episode, conversation about the series is not so much intellectual as it is like deciding which football team to cheer for while the teams change at five minute intervals.
This then is the sacrifice made by the author on behalf of Yuno Gasai and her entourage; characters like Twelfth and Tenth both use their brief and tragic sliver of allotted screentime to introduce a philosophy far more developed than anything the main characters ever conceive but are killed off before bringing it to fruition.
Twelve invents his own perplexing concept of justice that bars errant litter but not brainwashing members of a cult to kill each other. Tenth insults his own daughter for cooperating in his botched plan in the hopes she’s not as devastated when he’s promptly shot in the back of the head. Yuki and Yuno work on a reach in jar, get cookie level without considering they might have soiled a cookie jar that was evidence in a crime scene, and their budding pubescent relationship is the one meant to receive our sympathies.
Ninth dishes out some hard truth in her later conversations with the main characters, serving as the astonishingly rational mouthpiece for more frustrated and disillusioned viewers (e.g., me), though given Yuki’s goldfish memory her sermons go largely forgotten by their intended audience and by the rest of the characters she’s written off as a “hardass.” Also, the set of values which run contrariwise to that of the protagonists belongs logically, according to the author, to a terrorist, so there’s that.
While one might argue that the series is intended as a romance story slash mindless entertainment, when one chooses to usher in such cool adult things as the deaths of countless unnamed children (by explosives, the main characters, or both), abusive parenting, divorce, a room of corpses and no less than three rape scenes, you’ve got to be damn romantic and/or entertaining, and Mirai Nikki comes no where close to these self-imposed standards of quality.
Should you watch Mirai Nikki? It’s by far not the worst media I have endured, but I’d almost recommend reading fanfictions of it which don’t involve the main characters. Your enjoyment of the actual show, as might be apparent, depends largely on your opinion of Yukiteru Amano and especially Yuno Gasai (perhaps you can glean mine), and your willingness to cheer on YA novel exploits while ignoring or purposefully forgetting, as most characters often do, their history of murder and betrayal for no better supplied reason than “cognitive dissonance!”
Actually, just watch an episode of Twelfth.